Yesterday, tech giant Google agreed to pay nearly $400 million to 40 states for violating user tracking rules. Google’s settlement was reached amid accusations that it led users to believe that turning off location tracking meant that Google had stopped collecting their information.
However, a 2018 investigation by the Associated Press found that iPhone and Android users’ information was still available to Google even when users turned off location tracking.
For example, when someone uses Google Maps, they can allow the app to track them continuously when they’re actively using the app, or not track them at all. But the investigation found that despite the wishes of some users, Google kept a log of their location.
Google was able to track users by using the location services of other apps, such as Google’s Weather app, and by tracking from where users asked questions to the search engine.
Many users were upset by what they saw as a breach of privacy, and lawmakers agreed. However, Google said there are many ways it collects user data, and users can opt out of all location tracking methods themselves.
“There are several different ways Google can use location to improve human interactions, including location history, web and app activity, and through device-level location services,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to the AP.
“We provide clear descriptions of these tools and robust controls so people can turn them on or off and delete their history at any time.”
Google insists it has already fixed problems with its location services and the investigation is based on “outdated policies,” a company spokesperson said.
Also: This latest Firefox update makes it easier to protect your privacy online
Big Tech’s primary motivation for collecting user data is to sell it to advertisers to target consumers. But user data can be used by law enforcement agencies as evidence for criminal prosecution in police investigations.
In the past, this data has been used to obtain murder convictions. But it can also be used for more controversial prosecutions, such as access to abortion services.
The latter sparked further conversations about people’s right to privacy and how much Big Tech should be involved in users’ decisions and where they are.
As part of a deal with 40 state attorneys general, Google agreed to be more transparent about location tracking starting in 2023.